10 Forbidden Zones Around the Globe

Guides worldwide assist you in accomplishing things you may have deemed undoable — heck, adventure guide Franck will take you paragliding over your choice of the French Pyrénées or Himalayas, while Jason Remple will take you on a wild heli-skiing expedition in British Colombia’s Kootenay mountains — but while they can take you pretty much anywhere and explain pretty much everything with their in-depth knowledge of culture, heritage and history, there are a few places that guides (or anyone, for that matter) cannot visit.

Guides and tourists alike (i.e., the most adventurous of people who enjoy a good exploration), don’t always appreciate signs deeming areas “out of bounds,” but when they’re for the sake of preserving ecosystems and religious artifacts (or even real or suspected military secrets!), neither can complain; after all, we all have the planet’s best interest in mind. But, being the curious travelers we are, we decided to scope out exactly where we cannot go. A tease, yes, but also a way to satisfy our thirst for learning about the little-known. Fortunately, by hiring a guide on your travels, you can discover many a hidden gem (Nico, for one, will take you to six of Paris’s hidden gems of restaurants), but when it comes to the following places you’re not allowed to go, sorry, but there’s no guide-exclusive entry this time.

France: Lascaux Caves

With nearly 900 cave paintings inside dating back some 17,300 years, it’s no wonder the Lascaux Caves have been closed off the to the public, and while we’d all love to marvel at the wealth of Paleolithic art, it’s reassuring such rarities are being protected by UNESCO. But no worries: if you’re art-mad and traveling around France, art guides are ready and waiting to show you other works of wonder. For example, Arusik will show you original art inside Paris’s oldest churches on her tour, Arts Armenians in Paris, and Kévi Donat will show you Parisian marvels in the city’s fascinating Marais and Latin Quarter on his tours, The Historic Heart of Paris and Monumental Paris, the latter of which will take you to two beautiful and provocative art nouveau houses, as well as to the Quai Branly museum that displays collections of objects from African, Asian, Oceanian and American civilizations.

Italy: Poveglia

Haunted ghost tour guides around the world would do anything to get there hands of Poveglia, a former keeper of both the physically and mentally ill that has since featured on many paranormal television shows. Known as one of the scariest place on earth, the public are discouraged from visiting the Italian island, an island situated in the Venetian Lagoon that, starting in 1348, citizens ill with the plague were exiled to, and that, in 1922, was converted into a mental hospital. The hospital closed its doors in 1968, and the island remains abandoned, but who’s to know how many tormented and troubled spirits still roam the grounds.

For a more upbeat Italian experience, may we recommend going on a Real Rome walking tour with Giulia where you will visit the Campo de’ Fiori (here, vendors will give you information about local products and offer you some samples) and beautiful squares, streets and palaces en route to the Jewish area, which is full of history and ruins, or an Art and Food Walk of Perugia alongside Michele Tomassoni that will take you to the city’s picturesque landmarks, as well as to the best place to enjoy an Italian breakfast.

Ethiopia: Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

Guides on the African continent will show you some not-often-seen animals in breathtaking game parks, but when it comes to the most important church in Ethiopia, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, no tourist nor guide is permitted. Interestingly, there is no way to enter or exit the chapel built sometime in the 4th Century, but apparently, ever since the time of King Solomon, guardian monks (one at a time; the next is appointed just before the current dies) watch over the sacred Ark of the Covenant inside, offering it prayers and incense for their entire life. To make up for the disappointment of not being able to check out the innards of Our Lady Mary of Zion, why not spend five days alongside a wildlife safari guide like Peter Rujabuka who will take you on thrilling treks into gorilla country!

Italy: The Vatican Secret Archives

Sightseeing guides in Rome will take you on memorable tours of the Vatican (for example, Tiziana Gargaro runs a Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum Private Tour that grants you VIP access to the museum, saving you from waisting time in lines, and Massimiliano Scarponi and Eva Polino also lead exclusive tours of the landmark), but, regrettably, not even they have permission to enter the Vatican Secret Archives where all of the acts of the Holy See are documented and archived. Who does? The Pope, and, since 1881, qualified and distinguished researchers whom have to apply for permits first! The Pope officially owns the Secret Archives, some 52 miles of shelving that houses documents covering every ecclesiastical law and statute the Holy See has ever decreed, as well as state papers of Vatican City and papal correspondence.

China: Jiangsu National Security Museum

In China, alongside a sightseeing guide like Carol Guan who leads a One Day Yangshuo Cycling Tour that takes you through the East Asian country’s stunning countryside, into the traditional home of a local family where you will learn about farming life, and to a delicious authentic Chinese restaurant for lunch, you will learn the ins and outs of Asian culture, but some parts of the country’s heritage and history are out of bounds, Jiangsu National Security Museum being one of them. However, if you really really want to get into the museum, there is a way: you simply have to become a Chinese citizen! Why? The museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection on the history of Chinese espionage — it’s packed with exhibits displaying the likes of guns disguised as benign objects (like lipstick) and decks of cards hollowed out to contain detailed maps, and there are four rooms detailing the state’s security practices since the time Mao and his communists began their civil war — and, in turn, the Chinese government does not feel comfortable letting foreigners see the goods; such sensitive spy information should stay within China and its people, and even if you are a Chinese national, you must obey strict rules within the museum, such as no photography.

Hawaii: Niihau

Nicknamed “The Forbidden Isle” because so few people are allowed on shore for nature-preservation reasons, Niihau, much of which is endangered, is home to only 130 mostly Native Hawaiian inhabitants, and only the U.S. Navy, U.S. government officials, or close relatives to the island’s inhabitants are permitted access. Fret not, however: one, the entry-ban is for a good cause (to help local nature regain its strength), and two, Hawaii’s sightseeing guides have a plethora of other white-sand beaches and lush rain forests they’re eagerly awaiting to show you. To name just two guided tours in Hawaii, the bummer of not being able to visit Niihau is quickly settled with Koa Kahili’s Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour where you can sample Hawaiian grown cocoa and make your own chocolate, or with Tom Hawk’s sunset Segway tour of Maui, on which you will see island canoe clubs do their daily workouts, as well as an old plantation cemetery.

Australia: Pine Gap

To save you from being arrested, detained and criminally persecuted, you’d better know that Pine Gap, a satellite tracking station in the Northern Territory of Australia that is run by the Australian and United States Government, is out of bounds for the ordinary citizen. But rest assured that while Pine Gap is fascinating — it controls all of the U.S. spy satellites — sightseeing guides in Australia make up for the loss of not being able to take a peek inside by whisking you off to a slew of other Australian landmarks. For example, Logan Foote will cheer you up by taking you on a day-long hike in an ancient rainforest where you’ll be able to see the likes of snakes, lizards and platypus, and cool off in swimming holes, waterfalls and secret lagoons, and Michael Fattal will raise your spirits on his two hour-long electric bicycle tour of Sydney.

Israel: Negev Nuclear Research Center

Sightseeing guides in Israel, like Daniel Gutman who can “bring to life the hills and mountains, ancient ruins, and even barren desert with history, legends and tales,” Zel Lederman who will show you the Holy sites of the three major monotheistic religions on his Jerusalem at Dawn Tour, and Mordecai Weiss, a guide, author, former rabbi, and father of 12 who will take you to, to name just a few, the ruins on the ancient city of Caesarea, the Haifa Bahai Gardens Lookout, and Akko’s fortified walls and market, will show you the Western Asian country’s most spectacular spots, but if you’re most interested in seeing Negev Nuclear Research Center, you’re out of luck: it’s closed to the public.

Negev Nuclear Research Center is mysterious — nobody knows exactly what goes on inside, though it’s presumed to be used for building nuclear weapons — and the Israeli government is keeping it that way; in fact, one former worker who leaked that the center has an additional top-secret underground facility, and with that, he was arrested and tried with treason! Over the course of the center’s existence, planes that have flown over the area have been shot down, so if you’re Israel-bound, we recommend sticking with local guides who know the most fun, most safe, and most interesting places to visit.

Japan: Ise Grand Shrine

The most you can see of Japan’s Ise Grand Shrine, a collection of Shinto shrines that form a complex, is a tiny bit of the roofs of some of the huts, all of which are surrounded by tall wooden fences. In fact, the precious cargo inside the shrine (the Sacred Mirror) is one of the most important artifacts in Japan, and, in turn, the priest or priestess tasked to look over the shrine must be a member of the Japanese imperial family. But you’re in luck: many historically and culturally significant sites in Japan are open for you to explore, and sightseeing guides in Japan will enthusiastically take you to them.

Junko Kato will take you on a tour of Tokyo’s Old Town that includes visiting the fascinating Fukagawa Edo Museum, tasting Fukagawa meshi (originally a fast food dish for fishermen during the Edo period that consists of asari clams and green onion cooked in miso soup, served over a bowl of rice),a historical shrine deeply connected with sumo culture, a Buddhist temple, and a sumo stable where you can see sumo wrestlers practicing away, while Kaori Kodama will escort you around sacred Koyasan where you will visit Okunoin, the area’s largest traditional cemetery, Garan, the core temple complex, Kongbuji, the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, walk in the peaceful skyscraper cedar forest, and eat Shojinryori, a gourmet vegetarian cuisine that is frequently eaten in temples.

But Junko and Kaori are just two of Japan’s phenomenal guides; to name a few more, there’s also Hiroshi Tsuyama, a skilled guide in Osaka and Kyoto, Steve Bell, a Westerner who has lived in Japan since 1999, and who leads a unique Yakushima Night Time Turtle Tour, and Joe Okada (a.k.a. “The Last Samurai” and the eldest licensed English-speaking tour guide in Japan!) who will show you his spectacular sword moves (and crack one or two of his top-of-the-line jokes) while visiting Kyoto’s beautiful temples. The bottom line: the Ise Grand Shrine may be out of bounds, but guides in Japan will make up for the loss by taking you to an endless list of other spectacular sites.

Russia: Metro-2

Sightseeing guides in Russia will give you the comprehensive lowdown on Russian culture, heritage and history, but ask them about Metro-2 and you may just get a head scratch in response; after all, Metro-2 is a rumored secret metro system whose confirmation is nearly impossible to come by. Legend has it that Stalin commissioned the metro to run parallel to the open-to-the-public Moscow Metro, but why, nobody knows. The metro is said to have been used by the KGB, and is purportedly still used by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Intriguing as it may be, for something a little less eerie and mysterious, saddle up to Anatoly Ivanov and Maria for one-of-a-king tours of the Russian capital, as well as Nadya for a tour of a Dacha, a traditional Russian weekend home. When one door is closed, many others are opened!

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